Civil Rights and Racial Equality Films

Most films on this subject focus on America, although examples such as Amazing Grace offer a narrative on the British role in the slave trade. Following the abolition of slavery in America in 1865, it was almost another century before the black civil rights campaign gathered momentum in the southern states, the catalyst being the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. The films about this era often evoke the suspicion, and fear of the other felt between the black and white communities, and are largely set within the southern states.


Amazing Grace (2007) Period biopic based on the life of British slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce. The film follows Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) as a young parliamentarian in the late 1700's with socialist ideals that sit poorly with the political establishment. Disgusted by the ill treatment of African slaves in the homes of the privileged, Wilberforce fights to put an end to the slave trade. (Directed by Michael Apted.)

Gandhi (1982) An epic treatment of Gandhi's life and his nonviolent campaign to liberate India from British rule. The epic film follows the extraordinary life of Mahatma Gandhi (played by Ben Kingsley), from his beginnings as a young Indian lawyer to his triumph as a revolutionary - whose philosophy of non-violent protest helped gain India its independence. (Directed by Richard Attenborough.)

In the Heat of the Night (1967) A black detective (Sidney Poitier) and a white sheriff (Rod Steiger) are forced together in a murder investigation in Mississippi. The pair must work through racism, suspicion and fear of the other in a tense environment. (Directed by Norman Jewison.)

Malcolm X (1992) Film about the life of the controversial black leader Malcolm X, who emerged from the streets to become a powerful voice for the black rights movement in America. The film follows X (Denzel Washington) from his days in Harlem, through his conversion to Islam in prison, his pilgrimage to Mecca and finally to his assassination. (Directed by Spike Lee.)

Mississippi Burning (1989) A fictionalised version of the events surrounding the Ku Klux Klan's murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964. Anderson and Ward (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) are the FBI men sent to investigate the case. What they find is a tangled web of intimidation and silence, with no one willing to speak about the events for fear of Klan reprisals. (Directed by Alan Parker.)

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Atticus Finch is a lawyer in a racially divided Alabama town in the 1930s, who agrees to defend a young black man who is accused of raping a white woman. As Finch’s white community turn their back on him, Atticus fights for justice for his client and educates his children about the racism they are surrounded by.  (Directed by Robert Mulligan.)

All film synopses and descriptions sourced and adapted from (

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